Sunday, May 26, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers reject minimum wage raise and protections for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Measures failed in a House committe Thursday that would have gradually increased Louisiana’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage and make discriminating against LGBTQ people in the workforce illegal.

The outcome of the two bills was unsurprising, after similar legislation succumbed in recent years to the same fate. Proponents were disheartened, maintaining that the measures would have improved life for some in the state.

Louisiana is one of five states that technically has not adopted a minimum wage and as such the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour applies. Among the bills Thursday was a proposal to gradually increase minimum wage to $12 an hour in 2026. A similar bill proposed setting the minimum wage at $14 per hour beginning in 2029.

Proponents argue that boosting the minimum wage for the first time in 15 years would make Louisiana more competitive with other states. They also said it would improve the economy with more money available to be spent while improving the overall lives of many residents who struggle to buy necessities on slim paychecks, especially as the cost of living has risen over the last decade and a half.

Opponents say the measures would hurt business owners, placing a financial burden on them. Additionally, multiple lawmakers and business leaders said that many businesses currently opt to pay their employees more than $7.25 an hour.

Democratic lawmakers have routinely put forth measures to set the state’s minimum wage above the federal minimum wage, especially in a state that has the second-highest poverty rate in the country, with nearly 19% of the population impoverished, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition, lawmakers briefly heard a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. But that proposal was voted down in committee.

Currently, Louisiana law states that it’s “unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle.” The law does not explicitly protect sexual orientation or gender identity.

Proponents of the bill say that there are many members of the LGBTQ+ community who have faced discrimination in the hiring process because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. They urged lawmakers to pass the measure, saying in a year where their is legislation targeting various facets of transgender existence, this bill would show the LGBTQ+ community that legislators do care about them.

“The temperature and the climate here in Louisiana for the LGBTQ community is one of fear. One step that we can make happen in their lives today is to know that their jobs are not threatened,” said SarahJane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Louisiana.

The bill failed along party lines. During the hearing Republican lawmakers, who opposed the measure, did not offer any reasoning for their vote against the legislation.

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